Following months and months of increasing pressure from federal, state and local politicians as well as business and civic groups, the Biden administration has announced the northern and southern U.S. borders will reopen to vaccinated, non-essential travelers early next month.
The measure includes ferry travel between the nations. Essentially, the move will harmonize air, land and sea travel between countries.
The announcement was made October 12 by Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, who said, “In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” said Secretary Mayorkas.
“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy. We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner,” he concluded
Previously, air travelers from Canada were allowed to enter regardless of vaccination status. Once the new rules for air, land and sea travel are implemented in November, the border will be effectively closed to non-vaccinated travelers.
Travelers at land borders will be asked their vaccination status but will not need to produce documentation unless they are directed for secondary examination. Unlike current Canadian measures, they will not be required to provide a negative Covid-19 test result taken within the last 72 hours.
As long as travelers have taken a WHO-approved vaccine, they will be eligible for admission. It is not known if travelers who have taken mixed vaccines eg. one dose of Moderna and another dose of Pfizer will be considered fully vaccinated. The CDC is currently studying whether mixed-dose regimes are effective.
In January, the vaccination requirement will be extended to previously exempt cross-border essential workers and students.
“For 19 long months, our border communities have lived in a state of hardship and frustration, waiting month-to-month for news that the northern border would reopen and they could begin to move past this crisis,” said Congresswoman Suzan DelBene in a statement released October 13. “In that time, families have moved elsewhere, businesses have closed, and some communities are unrecognizable from where they started during this crisis.”
“Our border communities can finally see the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel with the Biden administration’s announcement that fully vaccinated Canadians will be able to travel to the United States by land and sea just as they’ve been able to do by plane. The administration’s policy now follows the science.
“This is just the start of the next chapter. For many border communities, especially Point Roberts, they will need additional support and resources to build back better and I will continue to champion their voices in Congress,” DelBene concluded.
Local immigration attorney Len Saunders was euphoric in his response to the news. Taking a break between numerous media interviews, Saunders said, “This is an early Christmas present for many businesses in Whatcom County. It is definitely a step in the right direction.” He cautioned that it would have little effect on businesses that rely on day trippers if Canada doesn’t harmonize its entry requirements with the U.S., something the two countries are talking about, he said.
Returning Canadians and U.S. travelers must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within the last 72 hours, a time consuming and costly requirement. Tests can cost as much as $200 apiece which would limit travel by Canadians to those who are visiting for longer time periods.
Ali Hayton, owner of the International Marketplace, the only supermarket in Point Roberts, was cautiously optimistic about the news. “I received a call from Senator Murray this morning, verifying reports of the imminent border reopening in November. While there are still many questions, I am guardedly hopeful that this announcement will summon the onset of a period of growth and rebuilding for all of Point Roberts. So much love and appreciation for all of our locals – we truly wouldn’t have made it through this without them. But it is a massive understatement to say how excited we all are to get our Canadian customers back – and not a moment too soon,” Hayton said.
Nick Kiniski, owner of Kiniski’s Reef Tavern & Grill in Point Roberts, said the new rules are “not going to help my business if the Canadians need a negative Covid-19 test to get back home.” He had announced on October 12 before the announcement that the Reef would be closed for the winter due to lack of business.